Scaled-back Three Rivers Film Festival features pinball comedy, a George Romero classic, and more
That the Three Rivers Film Festival still exists at all is a minor wonder. In recent years, the venerable event has been downsized repeatedly, cancelled entirely, resurrected, and then forced to weather the pandemic.
But the four-decade-old festival continues to evolve. Accordingly, its programmer, the nonprofit Film Pittsburgh, has slimmed the 2022 edition to just 18 feature films over seven days, down from 32 films last year.
“We were very aware of not overloading people with choices,” said executive director Kathryn Spitz Cohan.
Still, the festival remains a showcase for independent, arthouse-style movies viewers in Pittsburgh can’t see anywhere else (yes, even via streaming). Those 18 features are from 10 countries, including France, Argentina, the U.K., Italy, Mexico, Ireland, and Germany, and they include the Oscar nominees for Best International Feature from both Belgium and India.
Spitz Cohan said fewer selections means the lineup features the most essential offerings. “The films we considered overall this year were really strong,” she said. “It was really challenging to winnow this lineup down to 18 films.”
Most will screen at the Harris Theater, with several getting a second showing at the Tull Family Theater.
The opening-night film is “Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game,” a comedy set in the 1970s and based on the true story of how pinball was legalized in New York City (where, as in many places, it was once outlawed as a form of gambling). The film is directed by Austin Bragg and Meredith Bragg; it screens Thu., Nov. 10, at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, and is followed by a party there featuring free-play pinball machines.
Another special feature is the closing-night, 40th-anniversary screening of George Romero’s cult-favorite “Creepshow.” Shot mostly in Pittsburgh (by the guy who made the city synonymous with zombies), it’s a comic-horror anthology of five gruesome vignettes, scripted by Stephen King and inspired by legendary 1950s EC Comics like “Tales from the Crypt.”
“George was a huge, huge fan of the comic book, so for him, collaborating with Stephen King and doing that kind of style really appealed to him,” said Romero’s widow, Suzanne Desrocher-Romero. Desrocher-Romero heads the George A. Romero Foundation, which co-sponsors the screening.
“Creepshow” – which briefly claimed the No. 1 box-office spot in 1982 – starred King himself and such luminaries as Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, a post-“Airplane” Leslie Nielson, and even Carnegie Institute of Technology grad Ted Danson (just months before “Cheers” premiered). Pittsburgh effects maestro Tom Savini will be among the film’s cast and crew who’ll attend the screening at the Harris for an audience Q&A.
In between come features like “Last Film Show,” Pan Nalin’s drama about an Indian boy who becomes obsessed with films and strikes up a relationship with a projectionist, and Lukas Dhont’s “Close,” from Belgium, about the friendship between two young boys.
Other offerings include “The Last King,” the latest from acclaimed filmmaker Stephen Frears, starring Sally Hawkins as the real-life writer who dedicated herself to finding the remains of King Richard III. Another Pittsburgh-connected film is Morissa Maltz’s “The Unknown Country,” produced by Pittsburgh-based Laura Heberton, about a grieving young woman on a road trip through the American Midwest.
Four of the 18 films are available for ticketed online viewing, including two that are online-only.
The festival, by the way, is immediately followed by Film Pittsburgh’s annual Pittsburgh Shorts festival, which showcases 114 short films from 24 countries. The festival, which runs Nov. 17-20, at the Harris Theater, includes three days of sessions for working filmmakers, including a keynote by actor and Pittsburgh native Joe Manganiello. More information on the Shorts fest is here.